Well, actually, each and every one of us is an island unto his or her self.
We’re all living in our own little universes, shaped by our experiences, formed by our choices and seen through the limitations of our perceptions. We connect with only very few other universes, collide with a few more and pass by countless others. We will never be able to enter another’s universe. Never be able to find out what live is like on their little island.
It is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to ever truly know what it is like to life another life. We each get given one (as far as we know anyway) and are limited to and sometimes by it.
I am reading “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. It is quite an interesting read. Somber, glum and striking. I find it hard to put my thoughts on it in words, because it is very much unlike any other book I’ve read before. I’m barely half through, it’s not a small book, but I would definitely recommend it.
There are stories within stories and one such tangent he takes the reader on speaks of precisely the above. Which prompted this blog entry.
Neil Gaiman is one of those writers I can see myself in, what he says and does strikes a chord with me and he inspires me. He also tends to say the truth. One of which is the observation that we are indeed islands.
I’ve not taken this from him, I’ve planned on writing about the little universes we each inhabit for a while now. This was just the final trigger and I couldn’t continue the book before sorting through my own thoughts on this.
There is this saying that we can only see as far as the tip of our noses. Naturally everybody denies that. But what it really means is that we can’t truly see beyond our selves, because we’re trapped within our selves. The nose is just an obvious point of reference, because it is the most prominent protrusion in our faces and it’s always right in front of us.
There’s one voice in your universe. There are several means of experiencing the world you live in, but as I mentioned previously, the filters that our brains helpfully apply to our perception rather limit the experience. If you don’t believe that I recommend the TED Talk of the neurologist, who experienced a stroke first hand and lived to tell the tale, which is truly astounding (her talk is).
Your universe is unique. So is mine. I can tell you about mine and I wouldn’t mind hearing about yours, but that is where we can never go any further. We can talk about it, share our views and experiences and ideas. But your universe will only ever be yours.
It is therefore indeed like living on an island, or in a bubble. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it either. If we didn’t live in bubbles, or on islands, in our personal universes, whichever metaphor you prefer, we would be drowning in an endless ocean, be lost in a vacuum, crumble and wither, because we couldn’t bear it. We would never be able to cope.
If your chosen superpower would be to read minds, you would be driven insane within minutes. Our brain has its filters for a good reason.
Sometimes I want to be limitless. My imagination helps to push some boundaries. Dreams certainly do. Maybe that is what dreams are. The limitless potential of our selves.
But ultimately we are limited. In these bodies, in these lives, in our linear perception of time. We are islands.
I think that is why connecting with another island is so precious. It’s called intimacy. We only really get very few moments of that, we only choose very few people to share true intimacy with. Emotional and physical.
Mostly we never let anyone get close at all. Out of the seven billion people on this planet, only a true handful will ever get close to any one of you, of us, to me.
Our own experiences nonetheless allow us to feel compassion for others, empathy. It’s why we donate money to feed hungry children. It’s why we can lend a shoulder to someone who grieves the loss of a loved one. It is how we recognize love, pain, joy, sadness, the whole range of human emotion.
We will, however, only ever be able to shoulder our own tragedies and pain and joy. Never that of another. We’ll recognize it and act (let’s hope) appropriately, but we’re shielded against the suffering that isn’t ours. We couldn’t even begin to function, if we weren’t.
And you want to know what that makes you?
Let me close on the end of the paragraph in “American Gods” that prompted this blog:
Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, the other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.
A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.
And here, my friends, is the reason I read, and the reason I write.